Author: Antony Beevor
In the summer of 1942, the Wehrmacht had resumed its rapid advance deeper into Russia after the winter and a lack of supplies had forced it to halt. Of all the formations of the three German army groups, the Sixth Army would would travel further east than any other. Its journey ended at the banks of the river Volga, in Stalingrad.
Stalin had invested too much of his personal prestige in this city, and he had no intention of letting it fall to the Germans. While the Luftwaffe's Fourth Air Fleet reduced the city to rubble, reinforcements were rushed over the Volga. By the middle of November, the Red Army held only a narrow strip of land in the city, in some places no more than three hundred meters deep.
At this time, however, the Russians were ready to launch operation Saturn, aimed at encircling and cutting off the Sixth Army. The operation was a success, but the Sixth army proved to be far more resilient than anybody had ever imagined, and the siege of Stalingrad began. It would only end in January, when Stalingrad had been retaken and the remains of the Sixth Army (about ninety thousand men) had surrendered after they had run out of ammunition, food and medical supplies.
The battle of Stalingrad was fought at a scale which might seem incredible. When it was cut off, the Sixth Army consisted of 270 000 men, including some Ukrainians, Italians and Russians (sic). Against them were a Red Army force several times their size. Nevertheless, Antony Beevor has succeeded in writing an extremely vivid and highly readable account of the battle.
More importantly, he manages to give an impression of the almost unimaginable suffering on both sides. The Germans had already left their supply units behind, and despite Göring's promises, the Luftwaffe were utterly incapable of flying in even half of what was required. Many died from starvation and the cold, especially since it was impossible to dig in due to the cold. The Russians were poorly armed, sometimes as poorly fed as the Germans and their commanders were not above wasting men in pointless attacks.
Beevor has a talent for moving effortlessly from a description of the Russian snipers in Stalingrad to considering the strategic and tactical implications of a victory or a defeat. He has included all the relevant factors which is needed to understand the battle without resorting to the kind of dry language which would make many close the book after the first page. There is a real sense of being there, where the starving, freezing soldiers die, and where Stalin sits and orders the execution of alleged traitors and deserters.
Beevor also touches upon some subjects which has previously been left alone, such as the Russians who fought for the Wehrmacht. He estimates that about thirty thousand Hiwi's (Hilfswillige) served together with the Germans, in many cases at the front lines. This is a subject which was, and still is, unknown to most Russians.
Among the more useful features of the book is a total of seven maps showing the positions and routes of the relevant units. There is a complete order of battle, listing the components of the Sixth Army in corps and divisions, along with their commanders. The same is done for the Russians, although only the names of the generals commanding the individual armies is included, although they it still lists the individual Rifle Divisions and special brigades.
The book is highly enjoyable, even if it is a detailed desacription of horror, bloodshed and at times an appalling indifference to human lives. It constitutes a detailed and fair description of the turning point of WWII.